As New York struggles to dismantle the lies of anti-vaxers, mothers intervene to help


Now in its ninth month, more than 800 people in the state have become ill and New Yorkers have infected people in four other states.

Some residents and public health experts are wondering whether New York officials have taken the measures that are required to control this outbreak.

Until now, New York's efforts "no longer feel good enough," a federal health official told CNN. "You had eight months of sustained transmission and most people would agree that you are not early."

Anti-vaxers make life difficult for parents of young babies in New York

Observers said New York officials were working hard to stem the epidemic, but pointed to some areas where mistakes have been made.

First, public health experts have criticized the state for allowing children to go to school even if they were not vaccinated.

Second, some say that state health authorities have waited too long before asking the federal government to send help.

Third, it is feared that state authorities will botch some vaccination messages.

Finally, a doctor writing in this week's New England Journal of Medicine said that New York City's decision to fine residents who do not vaccinate could have turned against him.

The consequences of the loss of the war against measles in New York are considerable.

If the epidemic continues through the fall, the United States could lose its measles elimination status granted by the World Health Organization in 2000.

"This loss would be a blow to the country and erase the hard work of all levels of public health," US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the officials wrote in a statement.

Even worse, the measles epidemic in New York has claimed many lives. Some 56 patients, mostly children, were hospitalized for this disease. Fifteen of these patients were so sick that they ended up in the intensive care unit.

The New York health authorities say they have faced enormous problems in suppressing the current epidemic: anti-vaxers that specifically targeted the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of the state, bombing them with lies about the state. fact that vaccines are the cause of autism.

"We are now fighting not only against the measles virus vector, but also against the anti-vaxers, and this message – this insidious message – is just as exciting as the most infectious virus in the world." Dr. Oxiris Barbot, Commissioner Department of Health and Mental Hygiene of New York City.

Health authorities in New York face an additional challenge: ultra-Orthodox Jews travel frequently to Israel and Europe, where more than 100,000 measles cases were recorded this year.

New York is slow to act on mandatory vaccination

When the Disneyland measles outbreak occurred in California in 2014, the state acted quickly. In a few months, legislators introduced and passed legislation removing religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccines. Now, schoolchildren in California must be vaccinated unless they have a medical excuse.

Similar bills have been hanging around New York's Legislative Assembly since January.

"Our state's inaction in dealing with such a public health emergency is appalling," said Brad Hoylman, a state senator co-sponsoring the New York bill.

His son is dead. And then the anti-vaxers attacked it

When states experience epidemics, they can apply for staff at the CDC. enter and help. L & # 39; agency can send staff members, such as their "disease detectives" from the epidemic intelligence service, to help control the epidemic.

But the CDC can not just enter – they must be invited. The state of New York has only asked for this help in April, about seven months after the start of the epidemic. New York City still has not asked for staff at the CDC.

"I do not know why you would not want to be the local public health leader who stands up and says that he has exercised the option of calling the CDC and that it's coming" said the federal official.

"I think these are local issues that rely on trust between officials and the local community.The CDC's role is to strengthen this relationship and disseminate information," added the official.

Spokespersons from the New York State Department of Health have not responded to requests for comment on this story.

Barbot, New York City Health Commissioner, said his department had almost daily contact with the CDC and sent specimens to CDC labs, but that they did not need the CDC staff to come to New York.

"I have more than 400 people working on this epidemic," she said. "Every day, the New York City Department of Health is putting the best and brightest talents to work to maximize the number of vaccinating New Yorkers, and we are looking for every person potentially exposed to a possible case of measles. are working hard, day and night, to make sure that this situation is brought to an end. "

Cancel the strongest fear

When the anti-vaxers targeted the ultra-orthodox Jewish community, they knew exactly what they were doing. To help spread fear directly into the mothers' hearts, their publications contained religious references and included illustrations of mothers and children wearing typical religious Jewish clothing.

The state of New York has opposed these brochures to Yiddish posters – but the translation has failed so much that some parts are incomprehensible.
Trying to convince ultra-Orthodox Jews to get vaccinated, New York chuckles Yiddish

Gary Holmes, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Health, had previously told CNN that the posters "made up a small part" of the state's efforts to fight the drug. ;epidemic.

He said that, as a whole, the state health department had worked extensively with rabbis, community leaders and health professionals of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community to convey the message that the Measles could be dangerous and vaccines were safe.

Some Jewish nuns in New York believe that health officials have forgotten a group: mothers.

As in many cultures, mothers of Jewish religious communities tend to make decisions about children's health. In addition, the men and women of Jewish religious culture operate in somewhat separate spheres with distinct roles.

That's why, this week, a group of New York women – doctors, nurses and health care advocates – organized a women's event.

The event was the first of its kind and the goal was clear: speak directly to the fear created by anti-vaxers.

"The fear of a mother is probably one of the strongest emotions that exists," said Shoshana Bernstein, one of the organizers of the event.

Tables were arranged at the back of the room, each bearing a different anti-vax myth, such as vaccines cause autism or SIDS. Doctors and nurses were sitting at the table, ready to destroy the myth.

Meanwhile, doctors and nurses belonging to the Orthodox community have explained the real fear: that a child may die of a disease that can be prevented by a vaccine.

Maureen Nemetski, pediatrician, explained to the audience how she had tried to save the life of a baby too young to be fully vaccinated against pneumococcal infection.

"I pierced a hole in her shin and put an intraosseous line – a bone catheter – so she could inject her platelets and medications into her blood through her bone marrow." I can not imagine the horror of her parents hearing the crack of the drill in the leg of their baby, "she said.

"We would take turns hitting that baby's chest and trying to pump air into the lungs full of blood," Nemetski said. "We cried realizing we could not bring her back, we could not save her."

Anti-vaxers & # 39; the adult son catches measles; now he has this message for the world

Authorities could take a page from this manual, according to the doctor who wrote the recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"They provided information to trusted people in the community, they were not threatening, they were influential and that is exactly the kind of decision that should be made," said the doctor. Julie Cantor, doctor and lawyer.

The article in the magazine Cantor criticized the health department of New York City for having fined $ 1,000 to residents of areas affected by the epidemic if they did not vaccinated.

"The evidence on health-related behaviors suggests that people respond poorly to guidelines," said Cantor, an adjunct faculty member at the UCLA School of Law. "Strength, whether it is economic or physical, does not educate, does not build trust and protect human dignity, and it will never be an antidote to fear."

The city of New York, however, says its tactics – including fines and community education – have worked.

Vaccination rates have increased dramatically in New York and Rockland County. And in May, for the first time this year, the number of new cases of measles has been reduced.

Cases in the city increased from 172 new cases in April to 73 new cases in May. In Rockland County, the number of new cases increased from 52 in April to 29 in May.

"We have been able to leverage all the tools at our disposal in a way that has really helped to counter the epidemic," said Barbot, the city's health commissioner.

When asked if she thought the epidemic would end in the fall in order to maintain intact the status of measles elimination in the country, Barbot did not answered.

"We work every day, day and night, to spread the message that vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to protect families and communities," she said.


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